Thursday 4 July 2013

Chijioke Ifeoma Okorie

Much ado about acronyms?

Recently, 3 of the major political parties in Nigeria
Congress for Progressive Change (one of the  merging parties)
indicated to Nigerians and the rest of the world that they had merged into a single “mega” political party to be called All Progressive Congress (APC). Upon submitting the requisite documents for registration with the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC pronounced “eyenek”), “mega party APC” was informed that it could not proceed with registration of its proposed name as another political party already exists with the same APC-acronym. This “early bird APC” is known as African Peoples’ Congress (APC).

Ballot paper (party logos and acronyms only)
While “mega party APC” has threatened to sue INEC for refusing to register the party, “early bird APC” has also threatened to sue INEC should the electoral commission attempt to register “mega party APC”.

Even though issues of criteria for political party registration might not readily fall with the purview of intellectual property protection, it is interesting (at least for Nigeria) that acronyms are important for the success of any political party. Only acronyms and party logos are written on ballot papers. Parties chant their acronyms on the campaign trail.

To the extent then, that acronyms form an important part of a party’s “brand identity”, what should be the criteria for registration? First-come-first-serve?  Likelihood of success in elections? National spread?

However, what if the scenario was on a commercial turf? It is not unusual for companies to register their acronyms as trade marks. See Guaranty Trust Bank Plc, Asset and Resource Management Limited, etc.

Would acronyms possess the “distinctiveness” quality required for trade mark protection? In the case of The Procter and Gamble Company v. Global Soap and Detergent Industries Limited and the Registrar of Trade Marks (discussed elsewhere on this blog), the Nigerian Court of Appeal seemed to suggest that regular words would be considered distinctive if the proprietor of the mark can show that it was the first to use the mark in relation to the goods in question.

Further, Section 9 of the Trade Marks Act permits the use of the name of a company, individual or firm as a trade mark but requires that such name be represented in a “special” manner. Whether acronyms will qualify as “special” representation, will depend on the goods on which the proposed mark is to be used and perhaps other features such as colour, font and the like.

Acronyms may be too generic (in most cases) to be distinctive as they are, by their very nature, open to conventional use (For instance, both Guaranty Trust Bank Plc and Ginika Teka Balls Limited can lay claims to "GTB"). However, after all is said and done, a company wishing to use an acronym as its mark would have to ensure that another party has not registered such acronym as a trade mark and that no prior domain name registration has been obtained with the acronym.

For government agencies that use the same acronym, see Nigerian Copyright Commission and the Nigerian Communications Commission, both referred to by their acronyms, “NCC”.

For “distinctiveness” in the Procter and Gamble case, see page 32 here.

Chijioke Ifeoma Okorie

Chijioke Ifeoma Okorie

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4 July 2013 at 19:51 delete

Hi Chijioke, are they still wrangling over this or is this yet another usual spat? We picked this up back in April but not sure what has happened since then. See

4 July 2013 at 21:54 delete

Hello Kingsley, they appear to be wrangling still. Last week, Mega-party said necessary documents have been submitted to INEC to enable it proceed with the proposed APC registration. Another APC has come up to say it was forced to amend its proposed APC acronym to APCN because of the "original" APC and that it will sue INEC if it registers the mega party...

4 July 2013 at 22:36 delete

I should think whoever registers an Acronym first should be allowed to keep it whether its full meaning is given or not. It may have been better not to register acronyms as any registered one may take lots of space and prevent lots of other possibilities but that course of action seems far fetched even harsh. So whoever gets it first keeps it.